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The myths of Prop. 8

ENDORSEMENTS 2008

Proponents of the gay-marriage ban use misleading half-truths to obscure the measure's bigotry.

November 02, 2008

Clever magicians practice the art of misdirection -- distracting the eyes of the audience to something attention-grabbing but irrelevant so that no one notices what the magician is really doing. Look over at that fuchsia scarf, up this sleeve, at anything besides the actual trick.

The campaign promoting Proposition 8, which proposes to amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriages, has masterfully misdirected its audience, California voters. Look at the first-graders in San Francisco, attending their lesbian teacher's wedding! Look at Catholic Charities, halting its adoption services in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal! Look at the church that lost its tax exemption over gay marriage! Look at anything except what Proposition 8 is actually about: a group of people who are trying to impose on the state their belief that homosexuality is immoral and that gays and lesbians are not entitled to be treated equally under the law.

That truth would never sell in tolerant, live-and-let-live California, and so it has been hidden behind a series of misleading half-truths. Once the sleight of hand is revealed, though, the campaign's illusions fall away.

Take the story of Catholic Charities. The service arm of the Roman Catholic Church closed its adoption program in Massachusetts not because of the state's gay marriage law but because of a gay anti-discrimination law passed many years earlier. In fact, the charity had voluntarily placed older foster children in gay and lesbian households -- among those most willing to take hard-to-place children -- until the church hierarchy was alerted and demanded that adoptions conform to the church's religious teaching, which was in conflict with state law. The Proposition 8 campaign, funded in large part by Mormons who were urged to do so by their church, does not mention that the Mormon church's adoption arm in Massachusetts is still operating, even though it does not place children in gay and lesbian households.

How can this be? It's a matter of public accountability, not infringement on religion. Catholic Charities acted as a state contractor, receiving state and federal money to find homes for special-needs children who were wards of the state, and it faced the loss of public funding if it did not comply with the anti-discrimination law. In contrast, LDS (for Latter-day Saints) Family Services runs a private adoption service without public funding. Its work, and its ability to follow its religious teachings, have not been altered.

That San Francisco field trip? The children who attended the wedding had their parents' signed permission, as law requires. A year ago, with the same permission, they could have traveled to their teacher's domestic-partnership ceremony. Proposition 8 does not change the rules about what children are exposed to in school. The state Education Code does not allow schools to teach comprehensive sex education -- which includes instruction about marriage -- to children whose parents object.

Another "Yes on 8" canard is that the continuation of same-sex marriage will force churches and other religious groups to perform such marriages or face losing their tax-exempt status. Proponents point to a case in New Jersey, where a Methodist-based nonprofit owned seaside land that included a boardwalk pavilion. It obtained an exemption from state property tax for the land on the grounds that it was open for public use and access. Events such as weddings -- of any religion -- could be held in the pavilion by reservation. But when a lesbian couple sought to book the pavilion for a commitment ceremony, the nonprofit balked, saying this went against its religious beliefs.

The court ruled against the nonprofit, not because gay rights trump religious rights but because public land has to be open to everyone or it's not public. The ruling does not affect churches' religious tax exemptions or their freedom to marry whom they please on their private property, just as Catholic priests do not have to perform marriages for divorced people and Orthodox synagogues can refuse to provide space for the weddings of interfaith couples. And Proposition 8 has no bearing on the issue; note that the New Jersey case wasn't about a wedding ceremony.

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